Just like a good wine, you can tell a lot about an Olive Oil by simply using your senses, but unless you’ve been taught what to look for, you’d be forgiven for not knowing the difference between a freshly pressed Extra Virgin (EVOO) and a rancid imposter…we’ve all been there!
Now, we’re not going to get all “wino” on you – let’s face it, good food and good wine is all about good company anyway – but for those of you who are new to the fine art of deciphering Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) from the rest of the pack, here’s a checklist for what to look out for…
High quality, fresh EVOO should quite simply smell fresh and remind you of cut grass, salad leaves, tropical fruit or vegetables. If it smells like crayons, rancid nuts or anything artificial or fermented, then it’s either not fresh or it’s not Extra Virgin. In fact, in some cases it might not even be Olive Oil. So, make sure you give it a sniff before you slosh it on!
Unlike wine, colour has very little to do with the freshness and quality of your olive oil. Extra Virgin Olive Oil comes in all shades and depths, from dark green and bright emerald, to glistening gold and even a light champagne colour, it all depends on the variety of fruit and time of harvest. Generally, if the EVOO is really green it is probably an early harvested EVOO. If the EVOO is cloudy it probably means the sediment hasn’t had time to settle to the bottom of the tank. Whilst early season EVOO tastes wonderful (and is highly sought after) when sediment remains in the oil it will only have Extra Virgin qualities and benefits for 3-6 months from the date of pressing. When separated from the sediment EVOO will last for up to 24 months from the pressing date.
Just like the smell, the highest quality EVOO should taste like the fruit – not stale nuts or old cheese. But the real trick to knowing if you have a true blue fresh Australian EVOO is the aftertaste. Real EVOO should be spicy, in fact it should almost taste like it has chilli in it, and just like chilli, it should “catch” at the back of the throat seconds after being consumed. This spicy flavour is caused by the antioxidants, specifically the polyphenols and tocopherols, which are responsible for all of the health benefits related to EVOO. Again, if it tastes nutty or cheesy it’s either past its use by date or it’s an imposter!
Another way to tell if an Extra Virgin is an imposter, is its texture. If the oil leaves an unpleasant fatty coating on the tongue and mouth, it’s either an old EVOO and has gone rancid – which means it no longer holds its Extra Virgin qualities because it’s too old (ahem) – or it was never an Extra Virgin in the first place! Good quality fresh EVOO should glide over the palate, leaving a pleasant mouth feel.
If all else fails, check the date, certified Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oils will have a best before date on their packaging, which indicates 12-24 months from pressing (depending on the packaging and seal). After this time the oil will go rancid, which doesn’t mean it’s “off” it just means it would have lost its Extra Virgin health benefits, flavour and quality attributes. While old EVOO won’t make you sick, it won’t make you healthy either. Our advice? Keep it in the shed for polishing outdoor furniture, oiling old chopping boards and lubricating squeaky doors! Waste not, want not!